Genevieve Kim, Contributing Photographer
What does it mean to be a working artist and venture capitalist?
In conversation with Joseph Tsai ’86 LAW ’90 and Clara Wu Tsai on Tuesday at Tsai CITY, Frances Pollock ’25 MUS and Sola Fadiran ’22 DRA described their vision for a system that treats artists as entrepreneurs, giving them agency and investment in their pursuits your passion projects.
The Midnight Oil Collective, a self-proclaimed “venture studio,” allows artists to buy each other – every artist is an investor and every investor is an artist. Structurally, the company operates just like a traditional fund, selecting different projects to create a diversified portfolio and achieve a bottom line. Therefore, the main goal is first and foremost profit.
But the real reward is in the process. Each cohort of new projects is democratically elected, with every existing member having a vote. For every step of the way, everyone gets involved in everyone else’s business, helping each other find actors for their films, feedback on their scripts, or access to other resources.
The collective is at its core a community, a support system for creators to best help each other tell their stories. It also maintains a self-critical quality standard.
As Fadiran said, “artists can identify crafts” and “the more diverse…[and] The more subjective the opinions, the more accurate the assessment” of the artists from each other. That way, the power goes back to those who are best equipped to recognize true creativity when they see it, not to the executives, producers, and studios who maintain content whose aesthetics are driven by perceived monetary potential (ahem, reboot).
The Midnight Oil Collective was conceived during the pandemic when composer Francis Pollock ’25 MUS realized that the entertainment ecosystem of its kind was unsustainable and the trope of the starving artist was all too real.
Three years later and with eight co-founders, the collective began to find its footing. Their mission has grown to change the way people generally view the function and scope of art: by helping the artist, they help the art, which helps the community, which helps society.
Art can be truth, but it can also be a solution. And most relevantly, art can make money. “I want to turn STEM into STEAM,” Pollock said only half-jokingly.
“Technology is seen as this miracle that will save the world,” she added – but what if some of these ideas are too literal and mechanical for the complexity of today’s problems?
With their recent $50 million donation to Geffen Hall, the Tsais are similarly invested in the power of the arts. It is about “meeting the moment,” as Clara Wu Tsai put it, and the moment needs a new perspective. But for artists to thrive, according to Wu Tsai, they deserve ownership and a better path to growth.
Fadiran also highlighted the gap between potential and opportunity in the arts economy. Creators like Issa Rae, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Michaela Coel have managed to bridge this divide, but they’re the exception, not the rule. The relationships they had to build independently make up the infrastructure that Midnight Oil Collective hopes to provide initially, making success more accessible and attainable.
While the boon was and still is for the artists themselves, there are also larger ramifications for New Haven as a whole. Recently New York Times article referred to the city as a revitalizing urban center led by a thriving arts scene. Home to prestigious and free institutions like the School of Music and the School of Drama, no one can deny that Yale attracts the best talent in the arts – but then they all leave.
In this way, the Midnight Oil Collective offers a new incentive to stay local by encouraging artists to experiment in a place that already has the history, space and appreciation for it.
The biggest barrier so far has been a shifting narrative: People don’t see the arts as an attractive or profitable business investment, perpetuating the no-money, no-opportunity cycle, speakers said. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton has been in development for ten years and has generated returns of at least sixfold; “Everything Everywhere and At Once” was a blockbuster hit with ongoing returns 4x— but the presiding hesitations remain the same.
When finally asked what success looked like to them, Pollock gave the practical answer: success is when the arts are seen as worthy investments capable of generating significant financial returns. If the artist is recast as an entrepreneur, creation is recognized as innovation, and risk is seen alongside potential, perhaps the game can be changed. But what does that take?
“A movement of imagination,” Fadiran replied, letting the audience bask in the optimism.
So what does it mean to be passionate, to have big ideas and to pursue a vision with full force? Does this describe being an artist or characterize a founder? Midnight Oil Collective says both.